Streetwise Professor

April 13, 2011

He Can’t Be Serious

Filed under: Economics,Politics — The Professor @ 8:42 pm

Grinding through a major white paper and teaching obligations have eaten up my day, so only enough time and energy for a brief reaction to Obama’s budget speech. In reality, a brief response is all that’s required, because the speech was completely insubstantial. I thought it would be impossible to make a more vapid speech about an important issue than he did about Libya, but I was wrong.

No serious person doubts that addressing America’s looming fiscal train wreck requires major changes in Medicare.  In other words, anybody–anybody–who is serious about ensuring the long term fiscal viability of the US knows that we need to end Medicare as we know it.  Anyone who uses the phrase “end Medicare as we know it” as a scare tactic to attack political opponents who have thought seriously about the issue is an unserious demagogue.

No serious person believes that Obamacare will save $1 trillion dollars.  Anybody who says that is a liar or a fool.  Anybody who claims that a more aggressive implementation of the Obamacare model will save more is a bigger liar or a bigger fool.  Or both.

No serious person would misunderstand the purpose behind the Ryan plan’s individual vouchers as badly as Obama did.  The whole point of vouchers is to “reduce the cost of health care itself” by getting individuals to internalize the marginal cost of their consumption of health care services, and consequently to shop around for the best deals and to make rational and economical choices about the services that they consume–and those that they choose not to.  That’s how you control costs.  Anybody who doesn’t understand this point shouldn’t be in charge of a street vendor’s budget, let alone the US’s.

No serious person believes that centralized social engineering of health care provider compensation schemes by bureaucrats subject to political pressure will improve the efficiency of the health care system.

No serious person could lay the entire blame for the current fiscal situation on previous administrations, and fail to assign any culpability to the current one.  Yes, Bush was a spendthrift, and much of the current fiscal problem is the result of a major recession for which Obama is not responsible.  But a good deal is also due to the fiscal incontinence of the post-2006 Democrat majority, and especially the 2008-2010 Dem Congress and Obama tag team.

No serious person believes that cuts in defense and tax increases on the wealthy will make a substantial difference in the nation’s long run fiscal health.

No serious person believes that large amounts of current spending is hugely stimulative, but that large tax increases are not a drag on the economy.

No serious person believes that labeling government spending “investment” magically transforms dross into gold.

No serious person believes that “clean energy” is a viable alternative to traditional fuels over the next several decades.  And certainly no serious person believes that the government has the knowledge, wisdom, or incentives to invest wisely in it.

I could go on.  Suffice it to say that no serious person would give credence to a word that Obama said.  Including “it” and “the.”

Certainly, a profoundly unserious person uttered them.

The speech was also marked by all of the annoying and fundamentally dishonest Obama rhetorical tics–straw men, false choices cross-dressing as attacks against those allegedly making false choices, mischaracterizing and demonizing the opposition, the Olympian condescension, the “let me be clear” moment.  Indeed, he went one step beyond: he said “let me be absolutely clear.”  Since “let me be clear” is a “tell” that he’s about to tell a whopper, “let me be absolutely clear” must be a tell that he’s about to tell the mother of all whoppers.

Oh, make no mistake: he was absolutely clear, if inadvertently so.  He made it clear as crystal that the nation’s dire fiscal straits are not something that he intends to address in a serious and constructive way.  Instead, it is just a political issue to be demagogued to expand the power of the federal government, and to maximize his chances for re-election.

Apres lui, le deluge.

Well, the difference between ancien regime France and the current US is that our system has the means for change–a legislature and elections.  That we have the means does not imply that they will be employed wisely.  If they are not, and Obama’s unserious approach to a deadly serious problem prevails, the deluge will come.  If they are, there is a chance–a chance–that it can be avoided.

I fear however, that Obama is not alone in his unseriousness.  Indeed, with a few exceptions (notably Ryan) he has quite a bit of company on both sides of the aisle.  And there are few things as sobering as the thought of deadly serious problems being in the charge of profoundly unserious–short-sighted–people.

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  1. Sounds about as unserious as claiming that Russia was provoking poor little Japan over some islands the Japanese didn’t deserve to lose at the end of WWII, then pretending that’s not what you were insinuating, because it would be too embarassing for a good Jacksonian cuss from Texas to make such statements. How very Obamaesque, if you ask me, having it both ways all the time!

    Ostap Bender is right — this site occupies the highbrow end of Russophobia, whereby if the Russian government does A, and then the opposite B, it will be condemned in either case. The low brow end of course is Prokofy Nutcase who makes damn sure her Google bombs of ‘Russophile scumbags’ keep creeping back up with some weird macros or key words like ‘Russian prostitutes’.

    The Prof’s amusing BP reaction (that diabolical Putin somehow manipulated it! I know it I know it I know it!) is exhibit B. It reminds me of the David P. Goldman article ‘Putin for President’ where ‘Spengler’ wrote:

    American hardliners are the first to say that they feel stupid next to Putin. Victor Davis Hanson wrote on August 12 [1] of Moscow’s “sheer diabolic brilliance” in Georgia, while Colonel Ralph Peters, a columnist and television commentator, marveled on August 14 [2], “The Russians are alcohol-sodden barbarians, but now and then they vomit up a genius … the empire of the czars hasn’t produced such a frightening genius since [Joseph] Stalin.” The superlatives recall an old observation about why the plots of American comic books need clever super-villains and stupid super-heroes to even the playing field. Evidently the same thing applies to superpowers.

    The fact is that all Russian politicians are clever. The stupid ones are all dead. By contrast, America in its complacency promotes dullards. A deadly miscommunication arises from this asymmetry. The Russians cannot believe that the Americans are as stupid as they look, and conclude that Washington wants to destroy them.

    Japan was exhibit A, the most atrocious in my opinion. And a while back there was criticizing the Kremlin for reneging on any deal with OPEC (which, so long as it pumps more, benefits the U.S. and hurts OPEC, which is after all a cartel) — that’s exhibit C. If the Kremlin announced tomorrow it was building a pipeline bridge to Alaska to integrate the U.S. and Russian gas markets and reduce America’s dependency on OPEC sources, I’m sure you’d find a diabolical motive somewhere behind that one too.

    Don’t condemn Obama for profound unseriousness while reveling in the profoundly stupid idea that the U.S. can tell Russia and the rest of the world how to run their affairs in perpetuity and maintian nearly a thousand military bases in over a 100 countries. Otherwise, brother Ron Paul is right: the Dems merely want to expand the welfare state and the Repubs the warfare state and the ‘compromise’ the two sides reach is to do both and print the money to make it happen — until it all falls apart. Somewhere sometime the cognitive dissonance between your Tea Party distrust of Washington to run America’s affairs and childish faith in its ability to run the world if only the right hard headed lot were in charge will crash head on into each other.

    Comment by The Other Ivan — April 14, 2011 @ 12:12 am

  2. More hypocrisy from the other Ivan.

    It is funny how Russia is always telling other countries how to run their affairs, not to mention indulging in ethnic cleansing etc, mass atrocities against its own non Russian citizens et al.

    Comment by Andrew — April 14, 2011 @ 5:34 am

  3. Other Ivan-Ron Paul routinely polls at the top of people who identify with the Tea Party. You are simply mistaken about childish faith and your comments are inconsistent.

    I agree fully that Obama is a singularly bad president and that the political model adopted in Russia is horrifically bad. With all the genius politicians in Russia I would have expected more domestic progress. It must be the Tea Party’s “childish faith” that has somehow undermined Russian domestic development?

    God willing in 2012 Obama will be replaced but there is no doubt the Diarchy will still be in power. One fine decision Putin made was to run Soros out of Russia-I do applaud him for that.

    Comment by pahoben — April 14, 2011 @ 11:36 am

  4. The comparison of Putin’s diabolic brilliance to Stalin is laughable. Stalin and Beria would have the infrastructure problems in Moscow sorted in very short order and then on to the Caucusus.

    Comment by pahoben — April 14, 2011 @ 12:51 pm

  5. More like the Russian Salazar.

    Comment by So? — April 14, 2011 @ 4:16 pm

  6. Stalin and Beria would have the infrastructure problems in Moscow sorted in very short order…

    By exiling 10 million Moscovites to Siberia.

    and then on to the Caucusus.

    By exiling all Abkhazians and Ossetians to Siberia and then giving all of North Caucuses to their own beloved Georgia.

    Comment by Ostap Bender — April 14, 2011 @ 8:10 pm

  7. What would the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact look like under Putin-maybe something like the following

    Russia will have ownership over all gas and oil pipelines and will have the right to export hydrocarbons to the countries in question free of all duties and tariffs. Germany otherwise has free reign in said countries.

    Germany pledges not to interfere in any way with human rights issues within Russia.

    Russia pledges not to interfere in any way with human rights issues within Germany.

    Both Russia and Germany jointly endeavor to castigate the United States where necessary for domestic gain. .

    Russia will have the right to build a vacation facility for Kremlin personnel adjoining Berchtesgaden and will have free access to said facilities without encumbrance.

    All banking arrangements between Russia and Germany will be subject to the highest level of state security and will not be subject at any time to criminal investigation.

    Comment by pahoben — April 14, 2011 @ 8:41 pm

  8. Hee-Haw! It ain’t a pact, it’s the 4th Reich with Russia on a leash. I guess the two World Wars were simply delaying the inevitable. But being a client state beats outright destruction/colonisation, right? Right?

    Comment by So? — April 14, 2011 @ 9:25 pm

  9. I do not agree that exile of Muscovites would be required. A real diabolical genius would be able to actually improve Moscow infrastructure and matter of fact that is what Stalin did. If Putin is to be cast as a diabolical genius equal to Stalin then he should have a resume equal to Stalin. At best he is a mediocre second to Stalin on the top ten Russian diabolical genius list.

    Comment by pahoben — April 14, 2011 @ 9:33 pm

  10. Like I said, Salazar.

    Comment by So? — April 14, 2011 @ 9:45 pm

  11. Now Gostapo, we have had this discussion before.

    Far from Stalin and Beria “loving” Georgia, both were comitted Russian Nationalists, particularly Stalin, who targeted Georgia for some of the most intense purges and persecutions of the Communist era, starting in 1921 after he had engineered the Russian invasion of Georgia.

    No one should have been surprised that the Stalinist regime in the USSR shattered on the reefs of the national question. Despite a rollback of the rights of the nations and nationalities under Stalin and the re-imposition of national oppression, the bloody dictator and his heirs were unable to totally liquidate the heritage of revolutionary years with respect to national rights.

    In 1978, when the Stalinist rulers tried to push through new constitutional provisions reducing the status of the languages of the non-Russian republics, they faced mass demonstrations in the Georgian and Armenian capitols, and were forced to back off. Before the present breakdown of bureaucratic control, however, it would be hard to find another example of the mass mobilizations dealing a direct defeat to the totalitarian regime.

    The very existence of the republics with their formal right to sovereignty (and even to secede from the USSR) represented a historic defeat for Stalin. At the Twelfth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1922, he tried to have all the republics reduced to the status of the autonomous units of the Russian federation. A dying Lenin’s last efforts defeated this project.

    In fact, Lenin’s last letters attacking Stalin’s “autonomization” proposal and other violations of national rights – such as the breaking of the Georgian Communist Party – were not published in the Soviet Union until after Stalin’s death.

    Stalin had used the argument that the Communist Party needed to combat all forms of “nationalism” equally – the national feeling of small nations as well as large. He adopted this stance particularly in attacking communists among oppressed nationalities who defended the national rights of their peoples against the growing Great Russian chauvinism of the increasingly bureaucratized Soviet Communist Party.

    Stalin’s repression in Georgia

    The case of Georgia was symptomatic. After the occupation of Georgia by the Red Army in 1922, Stalin proceeded to crush the Georgian Communist Party under the guise of suppressing what he called “bourgeois nationalism.”

    In his article “The Question of Nationalities or Autonomization,” in December 1922, Lenin opposed Stalin’s rationalization for his policies:

    “In my writings on the national question I have already said that an abstract presentation of the question of nationalism in general is of no use at all. A distinction must necessarily be made between the nationalism of an oppressor nation and that of an oppressed nation, the nationalism of a big nation and that of a small nation.

    In respect of the second kind of nationalism, we – nationals of a big nation – have nearly always been guilty in historic practice of an infinite number of cases of violence; furthermore, we commit violence and insult an infinite number of times without noticing it.

    That is why internationalism on the part of oppressors or ‘great’ nations, as they are called (though they are great only in their violence, only great as bullies) must consist not only in the observance of the formal equality of nations but even in an inequality of the oppressor nation, the great nation, that must make up for the inequality which obtains in actual practice.

    Anybody who does not understand this has not grasped the real proletarian attitude to the national question; he is still essentially petty bourgeois in his point of view and is, therefore, sure to descend to the bourgeois point of view.” (Quoted in “Internationalism or Russification” by Ivan Dzyuba. English translation from Ukrainian original, published by Monad Press, New York, 1968, p.60.)

    Stalin’s repression in Georgia led Lenin to break with him and propose an alliance with Trotsky.

    And the list of Stalins focused aggression against Georgians goes on until his death.

    Comment by Andrew — April 15, 2011 @ 1:10 am

  12. …Saakashvili started his march on Tbilisi in November 2003 with a nationalist rally right before the statue of Stalin in Gori…

    Comment by So? — April 15, 2011 @ 1:27 am

  13. And now there are no statues of Stalin or monuments to him in Georgia (Saakashvili took it down), while there are over 300 in Russia, including at least a dozen new ones put up during Putin’s reign, a new museum devoted to him as “the Great Russian Hero” in Volgograd, and the fact that an outright majority of young Russians see him as a good leader for Russia….

    Try again So?

    Comment by Andrew — April 15, 2011 @ 1:39 am

  14. Funny how it only happened after 08, when Stalin suddenly became Russian, if not Ossetian outright.

    Comment by So? — April 15, 2011 @ 1:44 am

  15. They had been talking about it for years.

    Anyway, at least they do not venerate him (unlike the Russians and Ossetians).

    Comment by Andrew — April 15, 2011 @ 2:26 am

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